Thursday, October 3, 2019

can't catch 'em all.

It seemed like a good plan: Do a little work around the house, take the dog for a quick hunt, and then head for the river. You didn't actually get much done at home, but you flushed a couple of grouse with your dog and missed the one shot you took. It was a fine autumn morning at any rate, and before long you'd be standing in a river.

You hear the weather forecast on the truck radio talk about the approaching cold front with possible frost and notice the sky filling with clouds, but you're prepared with warm clothes and raingear. You get to the river several hours before dark and hike into a favorite spot. Steelhead and lake-run browns were said to be in the river and you decided to test out a new sinktip line swinging streamers. A couple years ago you'd landed a big brown trout in this very hole, swinging a streamer and hoped to duplicate that success. After working upstream to the tail of a big bend pool you give up on the streamer and toss a little prince nymph into the current. It was almost a surprise when the line goes tight but the rainbow on the other end is even more surprised. The fish takes off downstream going airborne with five big shaking leaps. Once in the net you wondered how that tiny little fly stuck in the trout's top lip could manage such a fish. And the fly falls right out before you could unhook it!

It's time to head upstream for part two of the day's plan. A big wide spot in the river, they call it a lake, is rumored to hold large brown trout that feed at night and love big mouse patterns. You park the truck as close as you can and lift your canoe off. A rucksack is packed with PFD, canoe seat, net, and fly box. Two paddles are jammed into the bow and you pull your headlamp onto your hat before hoisting the works onto your shoulders. Then you reach for the rod tube leaning on the truck and set it up in the bow. The portage to the river is easy, thanks to the downhill trial and anticipation of over-sized trout.

You're on the water just before dark and pondering where those trout will be. No fish are rising but that could change any minute. Will they be in the weeds? Out in the channel? Or perhaps along the shoreline banks where you'd cast for bass on a different river. You tie on your deerhair mouse before it's too dark to see the tippet and start casting.

Maybe the fish are laying by those rocks. Nothing. Ease to the shoreline but be careful not to overshoot and hang your fly in the overhanging cedars and maples. The mouse lands with a light plop and you can see it riding high. Twitch it. Strip it. Darn, it grabbed some weeds.

It's full dark now. The only sound is the breeze and your sailing fly line. You turn on you light to change to a Morrish Mouse, one you tied for Alaskan rainbows, thinking a lower riding fly will help. Flip the light switch off and everything is black. Before your eyes can adjust, the canoe bumps a rock and your heart jumps. Alone in a canoe, it's pitch black and you can't see a thing. And there's no action from the fish. Trout season will close on this water in a couple of days and you'd like to end with a bang, but you're losing hope and without confidence you send your fly here and there and wonder what the heck is going on.

It's downright chilly by now. The breeze is bothersome, your back is sore, and there's a comfortable restaurant a few miles away. Paddling along the shoreline you flip the light on to find the landing and are startled by a lone angler standing in the water. Doing any good? Nope, you? Nope. Damn cold front.




Sunday, September 22, 2019

Grouse Season.


It's Grouse Season. Gabby was spinning with excitement at the chance. The cover is still too thick with leaves to see much, but Autumn colors are popping and today was cool enough to enjoy the hike without the sweat dripping from my brow and down my back.

An English setter; a cheery dog bell; a comfortable old box-lock shotgun. During the next weeks it will only get better. Enjoy it!



Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The limit?


Most of the guys out at the skeet club know I'm a fly fisherman so when I show up I'm often asked “how's the fishing?” Sometimes I have something to say and sometimes not. There's one fellow out there named Red who is a fine outdoorsman and shows up with a collection of expensive Italian and Spanish side-by-side shotguns to shoot clay pigeons with. Fine bird guns for sure – some would call them fowling pieces – though the serious skeet shooters are more impressed with their florescent sighted, adjustable stocked over-unders and auto loaders. 

Red is also reputed to be intimately acquainted with every trout stream in the entire Arrowhead region. However, like so many folks around here, Red believes the primary purpose of angling is to secure a meal. Meat. Red is 70-some years old and in fine physical shape but told me he'd quit trout fishing back when the daily limit was lowered to five fish. Bringing home a measly five trout was hardly worth the effort.

Red knows I enjoy tying big bass bugs and streamers and will travel for hours to float rivers and cast for smallmouth bass – “Why? I wouldn't eat one!” They're fun to catch, Red, and we don't eat 'em, we release them, you know, catch and release. And good times with good friends. Red shakes his head. It's kinda' like skeet shooting, you'll shoot six boxes of shells out here today but take nothing home to eat. He just ignores me.











“How about trout?” Yeah, Red, I caught a couple little browns on a small streamer last week. “You'd do better with worms.” But that little fly stuck in the corner of their mouth makes it easy to release them.
Red walks away. You know, a ham sandwich tastes good, too. He's gone.









Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Brook Trout Morning



The owl I saw on the hike in seemed like a good omen, though I can't claim being clever enough to outsmart the few trout that were landed. Truth is I was just lucky. Again. The biggest accomplishment of the morning was just making it to the stream. After a fairly easy jaunt through the balsams and spruce I had to cross the old (mostly) dry beaver meadow through waist-deep swamp grasses hiding the many bone-breaking holes and tangles of sticks and logs of past beaver workings. Slow going for sure, but thankfully it was cool enough to wear a jacket and a welcome breeze helped ward off the mosquitoes.



There was no discernible hatch on the water, nothing to indicate a pattern to try, but I knew I'd start with a dry fly. A long time ago an old time brook trout specialist told me to add a little red to my trout flies, and so the Dark River was created. It's really nothing special but a pretty generic mayfly imitation with a bit of red floss added as a tail. It could be a purist's disdain, but it's caught many local brookies as well as browns and rainbows in Minnesota's driftless area. But it wasn't working this day.



I had seen a few grasshoppers on the way in, so a white post parachute hopper was given a chance. These little brookies are not tentative fish. They don't rise from the depths to look over a fly and, if satisfied, sip it in. No, these brave and unsophisticated fish rocket up from the bottom of the pool and hit with abandon if they like what's offered.



The hopper worked, with a blurry photo for proof, but let's see what else will, too. A western style #14 elk-hair caddis was next and brought a strong strike on the second cast! Another pretty brookie in the net. A couple more on the surface before the high sun had me sweating and I realized several hours had gone by. Several fine hours.
 





Friday, July 26, 2019

... take the pace.


Sitting in a canoe in the dark can raise that eerie kind of excitement that sends a shiver down your spine, especially when you're looking back over your shoulder and your partner gives the boat a little rock making his cast. Muscles tighten on instinct before the brain says relax, man, relax. Black water melts into the wooded shoreline and finally into a sky where only a few stars peek between the clouds. Twenty minutes earlier, when the sky was dark gray and you could still distinguish the shoreline from the river, the whippoorwills started calling and the big hex mayflies began appearing. And the trout started rising! I couldn't think of a better place to be. The trout we caught weren't the out-sized browns we'd hoped for – the kind you see photos of other night-time anglers posing in the flash of a camera – but being on that still water in the midst of fish gulping noisily all around is something to be part of. Night fishing is not something I'll do a lot of, but it's something I'll do again.

Part of last winter was spent experimenting with different materials for my bass poppers. I enjoyed carving some from wood; cedar and willow that I picked from the woods around my house. I've had some luck with them as well as the bigger Gurgler style foam poppers I tied, but day in and day out the deerhair poppers and divers have been the way to go. It could be a matter of faith, I suppose – after the task of spinning, stacking, and trimming it's easy to hold a newly tied popper up and say, “this will get 'em!”


There've been the chances to soak some of those poppers too, and some fine fish have been landed by companions and myself. The last drift boat trip on a beautful river proved one of my oldest, faded, and beat up deer patterns to be the hot fly. Enough so that I tied a new one of the same color and trim job the next day.



I can't go fishing all the time, but hanging around home can be pretty entertaining, too. A number of deer with fawns prance through the yard almost daily and the summer songbirds are fun to see and hear. We were visited by an Indigo Bunting and Mourning Dove at our feeder, rare sights for these parts. Several species of ducks have dropped into the pond and although black bears are not uncommon they usually wait until dark before showing up, but not always.














There's a little trout stream north of here that's not all that easy to get to, but catching a few brookies on a Dark River dry fly makes it worth the effort. Summer is short so I hope you get the chance to soak some flies for yourself. Like an old friend often says, “It's a good life if you can take the pace.”



Saturday, May 18, 2019

Fishing the X-Gurgler


Thanks to the availability of the Internet's public forum I suppose there is someone writing something about everything you could imagine, but I mostly limit myself to the outdoorsy stuff, you know, hunting and fishing and such. One of the blogs I like to keep up with is Ralph's Fly Box. Now I don't know Ralph personally, but it's plain he is a fly fisherman and he ties some nice looking flies that look attractive to me and he posts the recipes and how-to videos. Of course if we all tied just one example of every fly available over the Net we'd fill more boxes than we'd have room for, so we gotta' pick and choose. I tie many poppers but Ralph's X-Gurgler is a little different and seemed like something I should try so I tied up a few and spent a couple of hours on a couple of little lakes with a light rod and canoe.

Here in the northland it's still early season and the water is cold, so I had no high expectations but fishing is better than not fishing and I hoped the bluegills would be hitting on top. As usual, I was alone on the lake except for the nesting loon I came upon. 

The noise a 'gill makes when it takes a surface fly is like no other and those little fish fight like the dickens, especially when they're the good sized bluegills the gurgler was attracting. I'm a pretty big guy with big hands – my buddies say I make a good fish look small when I hold it, so a bluegill that fills my palm is a good one!

 
I can't say I've ever had faster action and I lost track of just how many I caught. A cast over any log or brush pile, a twitch or two, and fish on! I tied that fly in a couple of colors but the original black and grizzle hackle was the ticket, though a brown foam/brown hackle did OK, too. The lake I was on holds some pretty good bass, but they just weren't home that day.

The next day on a different lake that same gurgler found the bass. I've never landed a real big fish from that lake, but steady action keeps things fun and interesting.
 

So Ralph, your X-Gurgler works here up north, too. Thanks for the fun!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

first things first


The cure for Spring fever comes hard when we get a snow shower every week. Last night we got a couple inches. Sixty miles south the poor folks received nearly a foot, and here it is over a week into May.

While some folks are complaining and claiming disappointment, depression, and all sorts of ill will about the weather, no one seems in a hurry to leave despite the threats of doing so. I recently read a posting on social media from a fellow who stated, with arrogant authority, that anyone who retired and lived anywhere but Florida should have their heads examined. Well, I hope that dude enjoys his year-round shuffleboard and bingo, but I like it here and I believe I'll stay.

Though it hasn't been exactly “April showers bring May flowers” weather, Spring has arrived. Our pond is over it's banks and creeping into the yard from snow-melt. It's been visited by colorful mallards, and blue-wing and green-wing teal looking for a nest sight. Grouse are drumming daily and snipe are whooping it up overhead. Birds are singing, woodcock are peenting, and geese are honking. The ice is off the lakes and streams are flowing deep. There are herds of deer in the hayfields munching on new tender shoots poking up.

I've tied up some new flies (perhaps better described as “creations”) for the upcoming bass and muskie season and a few small panfish offerings I wanted to try on a near-by lake. So I pulled my canoe out of the shed and went to strap in down on my truck when I noticed the hull was cracked in several places. I got hold of a buddy who's a factory rep for the canoe builder and got some answers as to why it cracked and how to repair it. Of course the sight of my broken canoe was disappointing, and though I suppose I could have ordered the special epoxy from Amazon, there's a marine supply in Duluth that handles it and a trip to Duluth could provide a reason to drive up the shore to check out the steelhead rivers. The canoe needs fixing, sure, but first things first. Yesterday I left the store with my glue and pointed my truck for the North Shore.

It was cloudy, lightly raining, and 46 degrees. I went to a favorite river and was surprised to see only a couple of cars parked at the access. After donning waders and gear I hiked the half-mile into the river and was even happier to see no one around. I descended the steep and slippery hill down to the water partway in an exciting slide on my backside and was happy for no witnesses. I don't think it was all that graceful.
 

I spotted two steelhead immediately in a shallow run and followed them up to deeper water. For an hour I worked the water up and down, holes and runs, with yarn egg patterns to no avail. Most of the steelhead I've taken have been on nymphs – I sometimes wonder why I ever try eggs. It wasn't long after I knotted on a #14 Prince that I was into a fish. A good battle in a good pool, I suddenly wouldn't have minded someone watching. I snapped a quick photo before slipping it back to the river. It wasn't the biggest fish I've seen, but it's the first of the year and a good one to start with.

I fished awhile longer without action and more anglers started showing up. If I left then I could make it home for supper, and I still had to get up that darn hill.
 
 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Finally, no coat.


A few weeks ago I cut down a birch tree and split up the best of it to add to next winter's firewood. Since then it's snowed a couple of times, and it's rained a bit. A few freeze/thaws had the tangled tops of that tree buried and frozen to the ground. Things are warming up now and the snow is disappearing so yesterday I pulled those tops from the ground and bunched them up to burn later. This morning I walked out there and flushed two grouse that were nipping on the easy to reach birch catkins.

I always enjoy seeing grouse and am very happy to have them living near. They haven't starting drumming yet – the drumming logs deeper in the woods are still snow covered, but any day now...

Signs of spring are apparent. A few days ago the temp was barely above freezing – today it hit 60. I ate lunch in the sun. There was a robin in our yard. I saw a butterfly flitting about. Water is running down the driveway. It's easy to track mud into the house. I found two deer ticks on my dog. In town folks are happy and smiling even when dodging the pot holes in the street. Young guys are driving around in jacked-up trucks with the windows down and the heater and CD player running wide open. My friends are sending pics of boats and newly tied flies, eager for the fishing. I'm excited about the wooden bass poppers I made this winter and can't wait to try them. Some steelhead are being caught down near Lake Superior.

I've always said home is my favorite place to be and it would be sad if it were otherwise. But I have some other favorites for when the time is right and I'm looking forward to seeing them.